News & Politics

LGBT people are disproportionately food insecure

Earlier this month, President Obama signed into law the long-stalled farm bill that the House finally sent to the Senate at the end of January.  In it were over $8 billion in cuts to food stamps over the course of the next decade.  Over eight billion. The recently gutted Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) helps almost 50 million low- and no-income Americans (or one in five adults) buy food. So that cut will cut wide and deep. Sheena Wright, president of the United Way, said of the cut, “You are going to have to make a decision on what you are going to do, buy food or pay rent.”



You might ask: how many queer families does this issue affect? What percentage of LGBTQ people last year didn’t have enough money to feed themselves or their family?  If the only gay people you knew about were the folks on TV, like Mitchell and Cameron from Modern Family, or Steph and Lena, from The Fosters, you’d think: um, none? Those folks’ food insecurity mostly lies in doubts about whether their kids will eat the delicious-nutritious food they’ve served up in their beautifully appointed upper-middle class homes.

Food Insecurity and SNAP (Food Stamps) Participation in LGBT Communities,” a study released this month by Gary Gates, a demographer at UCLA School of Law’s Williamson Institute, should correct that misconception.  The truth is, nearly a third of LGBTQ people – 29%, to be exact – experienced a time last year in which they were “food insecure,” or with limited or uncertain access to nutritionally adequate and safe foods, or unable to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.  It’s disproportionate, as compared to their heterosexual counterparts, who on average experienced food insecurity at a rate of 16% in the same year.  Within our community, some of us are much more vulnerable: food insecurity is harder on women as a group; harder still on people of color. Some 34% of LGBT women were food insecure in the last year;  37% LGBT African Americans were food insecure last year, 55% of LGBT Native Americans, and a whopping 78% LGBT Native Hawaiians.

In families, the disproportionate food insecurity continues. Overall, LGB adults raising kids under the age of 18 are more than twice as likely than comparable different-sex couples to receive food stamps.  Over four out of ten LGB adults raising children participated in SNAP – 43%.

This makes for a very, very different picture of the queer family dinner table, coast to coast, than the few we see in popular culture, or than many of us, myself included, know in our LGB or T perambulations.  When we say that every  issue touches our community, it’s simply true. And that extends not just decisively, but disproportionately to fundamental issues of economic access and baseline safety.

Beyond giving generously and regularly to your neighborhood food banks, I can’t say what’s the most effective way to make a difference in this issue. Gaining more awareness is always a good place to start.  And the recent Williams Institute study makes it clear that dispelling stereotypes about economic privilege in LGBT communities is critical. Here are a bunch more suggestions for general advocacy and action from Feeding America. You don’t have to wait to September, Hunger Action Month, to learn more about hunger in America and in our communities. Any day – or week? I’m not sure I could go that distance – you could take the SNAP Challenge, and try to feed yourself and your family on $4.50 per person per day, the average amount SNAP recipients live on.  I’ll tell you right now that I have no idea how I’d make do.

 Here’s the full report in PDF form.


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